As in politics, we find in planning an inherent confusion of means and ends. As an ideologically based endeavour, politics clearly has goals for society but comprises, just as importantly, also means to achieve these goals. Planning is a critical method for achieving political goals, which of course makes urban planning, and adherent practices, such as urban governance and urban design, inherently political instruments. As such planning is clearly part of the means of politics. But does that make planning politics? Even though it is often said that planning also generates goals for politics, these goals can hardly be accepted as politics unless politically sanctioned. And even if such sanctioning in planning practice often is circumvented, this must surely be seen as a flaw in planning rather than a formative characteristic. Based on this rather conventional argument this paper therefore takes the stance that planning clearly is political but can not, or rather should not, be understood as politics.
More importantly, the paper argues that a major reason that this conventional wisdom has been so debated in recent decades, is due to inherent theoretical problems in planning itself, especially when it comes to defining its ends and means - the failure to accept that planning is not everything, if you like. The paper argues that to remedy this it can, in contrast to the focus on the process of planning that has been prevalent for a long time in planning discourse, be fruitful to focus the products of planning, such as policy documents, legal frameworks and built neighbourhoods, not least when it comes to identifying its means, but in extension maybe also its ends.
Of critical importance here is the fact that planning can never intervene directly in the urban processes it aims to structure and shape, but uses different intermediary systems, such as discursive, institutional and spatial systems, resulting exactly in such things as policy documents, legal frameworks and built neighbourhoods. Such systems do change over time but they still represent the most tangible products of planning, which often also show a remarkable durability. Rather than dismissing these as mere tools for the grander goals of politics itself, it is argued that they should be taken most seriously and maybe even be accepted as the ends of planning. This would indeed not imply a dislocation of planning from politics, only a more definite delimitation between the two that clearly leaves the political goals in the realm of politics. What is more, it also points to the first direction in planning in need of theoretical development, according to this paper, the relation between the intermediary systems used in planning and the urban processes addressed by political goals, or put differently, theory on planning as intermediary product.
KTH , 2011.
Symposium at KTH Architecture and the Built Environment, 8-9 September 2011